Waste Management commits to landfill gas expansion

By Jerry W. Kram
Waste Management Inc. is embarking on a major project to recover methane gas produced by landfills for energy production.

The Houston-based company has launched an initiative to build 60 landfill-gas-to-energy (LFGTE) facilities over the next five years. The company currently produces 225 megawatts of electricity from landfill gas at 95 facilities. The new project will increase the cumulative capacity to 700 megawatts, enough to power 700,000 homes or replace 8 million barrels of oil.

The company plans to complete 10 LFGTE facilities this year and begin development of another 10. In 2007, Waste Management will commission LFGTE facilities at landfills in Texas, Virginia, New York, Colorado, Massachusetts, Illinois and Wisconsin. "This initiative is a major step in Waste Management's ongoing efforts to implement sustainable business practices across the company," said Paul Pabor, the company's vice president of renewable energy. "Landfill-gas-to-energy projects provide an important contribution to the country's renewable energy portfolio. We're setting an ambitious goal to greatly expand our current roster of these plants, which will help us responsibly allocate the company's resources while providing renewable power to the businesses, communities and regions in which we operate."

Landfill gas is a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide created when microorganisms break down organic matter in the landfill. At most landfills, this gas is burned off, or "flared." Instead, Waste Management collects the gas from a network of wells across the landfill. The wells are connected to a compression facility, where the gas is compressed, dried, filtered and sent as fuel to on-site turbines or engines to generate electricity. The gas can also be delivered to industrial customers as an alternative fuel source.

Waste Management provides refuse collection and recycling services to 21 million customers in the United States. It also operates 281 active landfills and 17 solid-waste-to-energy plants. The company built its first LFGTE facility more than 20 years ago. LFGTE gives the landfills a new revenue stream while offsetting the use of fossil fuels at utility power plants. It also prevents the emission of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. Over the years, Waste Management has reduced methane emission from its landfills by 50 percent. As a result, it has become one of the largest holders of greenhouse gas emission credits in the United States.